Pump Court Chambers

Technology in the Courts

Blog 19th February 2016

It’s good to know that some jurisdictions still have healthy regard for pointless rules. A client the other day told me that in the British Commonwealth jurisdiction where he had been resident, the court would refuse to look at any documents unless they were on foolscap paper, although the court’s only photocopier only took A4 paper.

In our happy-go-lucky system we are blessed with an open attitude to technology, and in the family courts orders have now adapted to the cut and paste culture by requiring large volumes of pointless guff in every order. “And upon hearing Miss Ward for the Applicant (appearing today in a black M&S washable two piece suit showing some signs of wear) and upon hearing Miss Breslin for the Respondent (appearing in a much more appropriate Hobbs crepe de chine with piped detail to the lapel and fetching pencil skirt) And upon the court recording that the weather outside was slightly overcast but nevertheless reasonably clement for the time of year” and so it goes on.

The requirement to increase the size of a consent order from one side of A4 to several sides of single spaced font size 9 print has led to the irritation of having opponents with laptops who insist on typing up orders at court. If court buildings were equipped with such avant garde features as wifi or printers then it would be fantastic, but they are not. The person who types the order at court then faffs about trying to email it. In my day, for a gentleman barrister to say to a lady barrister “may I access your hot spot?” would have been considered most inappropriate, but now it seems de riguer. Every wondered why you get clusters of myopic counsel in Oxford by the window to the right of the usher’s desk? It’s the only place with 4G. There’s no point emailing the court office because they were made redundant last year, or if there is a court office it is only staffed from 12 until 12.30 on the third Thursday of the month, but at that time they’re all at lunch. It is dodgy to expect the judge to act as a printing service so not a good idea to email them. So, if there is no wifi and no internet signal, both parties and the judge have to make do with passing around a laptop and hoping that they don’t accidentally press a button and stumble across some embarrassing holiday photos. This naturally takes three times as long as if there were three copies of a physical document. And what do you sign? What do you walk away with? How do you know your weasel opponent isn’t going to execute some retrospective tweak?

Reader, I have succumbed to their number. Armed now with my Microsoft Surface Pro (having recovered from the shock of spending £450 on laptop only to discover it doesn’t come with a keyboard!) I can smug it up with the best of them, except I know in my heart that it is still quicker, and easier, and better for the client to go all retro with a pen and a bit of paper.

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